The country’s most prominent labour federation and the largest employers’ organisation both agree that mandatory employee vaccinations against Covid-19 is a no-go area.
The National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) and the Namibian Employers Federation (NEF) concur that it would be the responsible thing to do for employees to voluntarily get the jab.
Speaking to New Era this week, NUNW secretary general Job Muniaro, however, said it would be totally unfair for employers to compel their staff to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
“These things must be done within the law. When employees signed their employment contracts, there was no mention of mandatory vaccinations,” he stated.
Muniaro said a major reason for many Namibian workers rejecting the vaccinations is because many are not informed about what exactly is in the vaccines.
Therefore, he suggested that the authorities inform workers and the nation at large as to what exactly the vaccines consist of.
He continued that it is also up to Namibian unions to ensure their members are educated about the benefits of getting the Covid-19 jab.
“Do not threaten the workers. Inform them to understand why they must get vaccinated. To dismiss someone who is not vaccinated and who is not sick is against the law,” Muniaro stressed.
The NUNW secretary general added that from a business perspective, it would be devastating for employees not to get vaccinated, but advised that the national vaccination campaign must be implemented on a procedural basis.
He further invited employers to make use of unions to educate workers on vaccination benefits.
Also speaking to New Era, secretary general of the NEF, Daan Strauss admitted that while mandatory vaccinations might be a good idea, it would be against the law as the Namibian constitution guarantees freedom of choice.
This, he said, means the law of the land will have to change for vaccinations to become compulsory.
“It is only logical to get vaccinated, particularly for employees dealing with international clientele. It is the responsible thing to get vaccinated,” said Strauss.
He added that he expects Namibian authorities, such as the health ministry, to soon pronounce a collective position on mandatory vaccinations. Once this is done, the NEF will comply with these directives. Strauss added that “this is a difficult issue to deal with”, but said it would make sense, particularly in the tourism industry, where Namibian operators will have to assure international visitors that their staff are fully vaccinated.
Also commenting on the contentious issue, labour expert Herbert Jauch expects it to become increasingly pressing in the months and years to come, even in Namibia.
“Legally, our Labour Act currently does not make any vaccination mandatory, and thus punishing employees for not being vaccinated will be regarded as an unfair labour practice,” he said.
“However, employees who are not vaccinated might put their co-workers and clients at risk, which then raises the question of individual rights versus collective rights. Also, employers are obliged in terms of the Act to provide a safe working environment, and employees could thus argue that allowing non-vaccinated staff members to work alongside them puts them at risk.”
He also emphasised that an individual’s choice regarding vaccination is respected by Namibia’s current laws.
Said Jauch: “The difficulty arises when this individual choice puts others at risk because employers have an obligation to ensure health and safety at the workplace. Thus, an unvaccinated staff member may pose a risk to others, which then pits the individual’s choice against the collective interests of others at the workplace.”
He observed that achieving herd immunity through mandatory mass vaccination might become necessary, and collective interests might have to be placed above individual ones.
“Compulsory vaccination can, however, only be considered if sufficient vaccines are available and if there is sufficient scientific evidence of its necessity, including little risk of adverse side-effects. In Namibia (and Africa as a whole), we certainly do not have enough vaccines available, and the need to set aside patent rights to make sufficient vaccines available at low cost is essential ahead of any consideration of mandatory vaccinations,” Jauch added.
Namibia aims to vaccinate at least 1.5 million people or 60% of the country’s population to help realise herd immunity against the coronavirus. Only about 130 000 people have received two doses, while over 223 000 have received one dose.
Meanwhile, in neighbouring South Africa, numerous companies have announced mandatory vaccination policies. For instance, the Discovery company recently said its group’s mandatory vaccination policy won’t just be limited to employees, but will extend to all of the group’s properties across that country. Discovery also aims to introduce a mandatory vaccination policy for all its South African-based employees from 1 January 2022.